Using feature-based product modelling to integrate design and rapid prototyping
Rapid prototyping (RP) provides a means of producing physical models directly from computer aided design (CAD) data. The aim of this research was to determine the most effective method of integrating RP into the design process. A review of the links between design and RP was undertaken. This revealed that RP is a technology which can benefit several key areas of engineering design. Many computer tools were identified which supported the designer's use of RP but most of these relied on using CAD geometry alone. Using this incomplete set of design information hindered the integration of RP into the design process. A hypothesis was formulated which stated that a feature-based product modelling methodology was needed to enable RP to become an integrated part of the design process. To demonstrate the validity of the methodology, it was embodied in a design support system (DSS) for rapid prototyping. The DSS requirements were determined through a survey of designers using RP, and a full specification for the system was defined. A demonstration version was implemented using a relational database coupled with a CAD system. The demonstration DSS enabled feature-based geometry and non-geometric information to be integrated within a single product model. An application program was developed which used the product model data to optimise the orientation of an RP model in order to meet the differing surface finish requirements for each feature in a component. This example use of the system illustrated the benefit of using a feature-based product model to optimise the designer's use of RP. Future work needed to improve the DSS to a state where it would be ready for development into a commercial package was identified. Finally, conclusions were drawn as to how all the objectives were met and summarising the original contribution to knowledge made by the research.